No unveiling of new owners, no photos of identifiable parties in the directors’ box to encourage fresh speculation (at least none that I’ve seen), and for the third game in a row no victory (despite going into each game with high hopes and spending most of them confident of the three points), so no play-off position (and the widespread view that we’ve tossed away seven points in these three games). We’re in limbo for sure: waiting for confirmation of a takeover, boycotting Addicks waiting for a formal deal before returning, all Addicks waiting to see if Karl Robinson and the squad have what it takes to get us promoted - clearly the answer is ‘so far no but we are handily placed and with key players coming back from injury and January loan signings bedding in there are grounds for hope.
On the takeover please don’t look here for any inside information. I don’t know which of the interested parties is supposed to be involved in the ‘done deal’ (I keep checking the Australian Football Consortium page for any change of wording), nor do I know what has yet to be tied up before everyone signs off. Like everyone else after the euphoria of ‘done deal’ was digested all we are left with is downside risk: will something crop up to scupper a deal? If so, will other interested parties step in? And if so will Duchatelet be prepared to accept the lower price they will be offering?
There are for sure conflicting issues over timing. A buyer might want to drag things out, even to the summer, to avoid having to fund monthly losses. But if a new owner’s goal is to get us promoted, he/she/they will surely be aware that the chances of this happening are increased if a deal is concluded asap, given the boost to supporters’ morale and some clarity for Robinson and the players (no, that’s not an excuse for underperforming). Presumably a deal at this stage of the season will include clauses (affecting the purchase price) to cover whether or not we are promoted this season. We want promotion, ergo a deal now please.
On the results front I can’t comment on whether we should be blaming our inability to finish off games with more goals or our inability to keep a clean sheet for the recent points dropped. Obviously the answer is both – and the statistics speak for themselves. Of the teams above us only Shrewsbury have scored about the same number of goals as us, everyone else more (even allowing for extra games played). And they have conceded 24 against our 38. So we don’t have an identifiable strength.
Without wishing to jump the gun I’ve been trying to place the current team in the context of others which have gone on to compete in the play-offs (perhaps leaving aside Lennie’s heroes). It is after all unfair to set it against Sir Chris’ League One champions; they were head and shoulders above the rest from the start of the season through to its end – although if there is a comparison to be made it’s that team’s record for the final 10 minutes of a match, which was outstanding (if I remember correctly). Phil Parkinson’s play-off side was still an unbalanced mix of Premiership/Championship players and others which ended up missing out in the play-off lottery, arguably unfortunately (we should have beaten Swindon over the two legs) but ultimately because they were not clearly better than the others in the mix. And the team under Curbs in 1995/96 really limped into the play-offs with little chance of success.
If there is a comparison to be made – and yes I realise it is an optimistic, perhaps wildly over-optimistic one – it is with the 1997/98 campaign. For the first half of the season, probably longer, we were not setting the division on fire, even though Super Clive was banging them in with abandon. If my memory serves me well, it was only around Christmas/New Year, when we beat convincingly Middlesbrough and Notts Forest (admittedly in the Cup), that we really began to believe. And it was really only in the final 10 games of the season – when we conceded three goals (none in the final seven games), won eight, drew two and lost none – that we really came good, going into the play-offs with real confidence (albeit with a very good side in the shape of Sunderland to be overcome).
It is up to the current squad and management team to produce a repeat of this performance. Yes, there’s no Kinsella or Mendonca but the opposition isn’t as tough either. It can be done – but until the team does start to show that it is improving and making the most of its assets I really don’t want to hear the sort of comments made about Doncaster by the admirable Chris Solly. Please don’t talk in terms of what we should be doing against teams like that, we haven’t earned the right. Go out on the pitch and do it, then take the (deserved) plaudits.